Maybe I Missed These Lessons . . .

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 23 2012

All right, so I wrote the novel, revised the novel (and again … and again) and thought I was all ready to jump into querying. Not so fast. Unsurprisingly, I ran into several questions, and I’m hoping you can answer them.

1. My novel has a prologue, but the “voice” in the prologue is much different from the “voice” in the rest of the book (long story…). If the submission requirements for Agency X want the first ten pages of the manuscript with your query, is it better to include the prologue in those ten pages, for clarity (my prologue is less than ten pages), or just begin with chapter one? In my case, at least, the prologue is referenced many times in chapter one, and I don’t want to confuse agents.

If your prologue is truly integral to the story, then there should be no question that you should include that in any submission to the agent. If you feel that you should or could eliminate the prologue when sending pages or chapters to the agent, then my suggestion is to look more carefully to see if you need the prologue at all.

2. Maybe this is obvious, but I was wondering: If an agent’s submission guidelines ask for a query and the first ten pages, those ten pages should be double-spaced, right? I don’t want to be sending more or less than I’m supposed to! (Maybe I’m alone in this, but I always write with single-spaced lines. It wasn’t until I started researching “how to get published” that I realized my idea of ten pages might be very different from someone else’s.)

Any pages you send should always be double-spaced. The only exceptions are the query and the synopsis. Those can be single-spaced. This “rule” stems from the “old days” when all agents read on the printed page. The double-spacing allowed editors and agents to make notes on the pages, and it also protected their eyes. Now that agents read on ereaders this probably doesn’t matter as much, but that’s assuming you know for sure that the agent you’re sending to is doing all of her reading on an ereader. Since you don’t know that, always double-space your manuscript pages.

3. I’ve read many times that it’s a mistake to put too much about yourself in a query letter; that agents don’t care how old you are, etc. I’m 16. Does that make it different for me — should I mention my age in the initial query? I don’t want to risk an agent just hitting “delete” on my query or throwing it out when he or she sees “16,” without considering me for my writing first. I also don’t want an agent to feel like I was deliberately holding back information or being dishonest, if I’m lucky enough to get beyond that initial query stage and actually talk to an agent about representation (at which point I realize my age would definitely have to come up). Would the idea of working with a teenage author really cause an agent to back away?

It’s not different for you. Your age doesn’t matter. It’s all about the book. I agree that it’s a mistake to put too much of yourself in the query. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to know a little about you and who you are, but what we really want to know first and foremost is what your book is about. Never mention your age whether you’re 16, 60, or 96. It just shouldn’t be important.


8 responses to “Maybe I Missed These Lessons . . .”

  1. Good questions. Thanks for posting them and the answers. It's always good, too, to check the agency's submission section on its webpage.

  2. Avatar Colin Smith says:

    Just to echo Donna's point, always always always check the agent's submission guidelines. Even if you think you know them, double-check, and then check again right before you hit send.

    Notice, though, I said "agent" not "agency." Often they are the same, but not always. If the agent you're querying has his or her own web site or blog apart from their agency's site, look there for submission guidelines in case their requirements differ (even if only slightly).

  3. Great questions–and answers. I'm assuming double-spaced manuscript pages also apply when agents ask for pages (no attachments) in an email query? Copying/pasting from Word to email can create unwanted formatting issues; using Notepad as a middleman sometimes helps, but then double spaces are lost (and some email programs don't have a functionality to add them back). Anyone else run into this?

  4. Avatar Redleg says:

    I do have the same issue as Writer Librarian with trying to format pages in the body of the e-mail. Many agents even say they specifically want plain text e-mails, since different e-mail clients don't necessarily click. I've always thought the best answer is to take the number of pages they request (say, 10) from my manuscript as formatted, reformat it for e-mail, and then send regardless of how long it becomes in the body of the e-mail (usually around 5.) It's a laborious process, but I don't know what else makes sense.

  5. Wonderful questions and answers. I've always wondered about the personal stuff in the query letter. Thanks!

  6. Avatar Laura W. says:

    Great questions, great answers. Thanks!

  7. A 16 year-old is a minor, so she can't legally sign a contract. What are your options if that situation arises?

  8. Avatar Laina says:

    Gilbert: I'm pretty sure that somewhere between "query" and "contract", you should let the agent know if you're underage.

    Also, from what I've heard, people just have to get their parents to sign/co-sign.